By Rebecca Foster-Goodman As the days get shorter and frost covers the grass, soccer fields -- filled recently with enthusiastic children and cheering parents -- will become deserted during the long Chicago winter. But the memories will remain of the success of the U11 girls of the Lake Forest Soccer Association.
Under the direction of coach Oktay Akgun, the U11 girls travel club held an 8th-place state ranking before losing their final game Saturday. And that loss was rare: only the team’s second in two years.
"It is our job to make sure every kid has a positive experience,” says longtime Lake Forest Soccer Association Director of Coaching Oktay Akgun.
LFSA – which features boys and girls teams from ages 7-10 -- boasts a long resume of players who have gone on to play in college and beyond. More than 80 percent of the Lake Forest High School girls’ and boys’ varsity soccer players have been developed by LFSA. Rosters at Division I schools from Duke University to Stanford University have been populated with LFSA alums. Northwestern University today has three sophomores who played together as young girls at LFSA – Bridget Mitchell, Nicole Doucette, and Ingrid Falls. Earlier in the season, Akgun brought his young team to watch these three LFSA veterans in action. “It is important that our young girls see that they can have a future with soccer. These three girls are incredible role models for our young players,” Akgun said. LFSA’s director of coaching came to the United States from Turkey in 1988. He made his way to Lake Forest in 1996, when he began developing the soccer talents of both boys and girls in Lake Forest. Akgun believes his mission is more than just developing high-level soccer players; he is developing all-around individuals.
“This job is not just about soccer. It is about preparing these kids for life,” Akgun says. "We teach these kids to have respect for their opponents, respect for their team, respect for their coaches.”
LFSA Board President Meredith Gauthier played for LFSA as a young girl, and she has three daughters who have played for the organization as well. She agrees that role models are important so young girls can see what is possible. “Not everyone is going to continue on to play in college,” she said. “But it is important that the girls see that it can be done.” She also adds that skills are key to becoming a successful player, but an affinity for the game is crucial. “You have to love the game. It is an exhausting sport that takes an unbelievable amount of passion and patience, so you have to love it.”
Gauthier notes that although soccer has changed a lot since she played as a child, LFSA has strived to remain a small organization that provides a stellar experience. And at the heart of the organization is the coaching staff. “We’ve been fortunate to have these coaches for years and years. We have a growing number of second-generation players. That says a lot about an organization. When former players return as parents and want their kids to have the same experience that they had, you know it is something special.”
Akgun also believes that coaching is one of the secrets behind the success of LFSA. He adds that the best coaching style is a positive one. “At the end of the day, we are coaching kids. Kids of all talent levels. Anyone can coach the most talented kid. But it takes a special coach who can reach the kids that really need the help. It is our job to make sure every kid has a positive experience.”
For more information on the LFSA program, visit www.lfsa.org